How to Become a Photographer

You need more than creativity to be successful. Bring your career into focus with these tips.

How to Become a Photographer

Learn how to become a working photographer.

You’re probably familiar with the phrase “Pics or it didn’t happen.” There’s some truth there. Photos help tell stories. Learn how to become a photographer and you’ll capture moments that words often can’t describe.

Photography serves many purposes. They appeal to viewers’ emotions. For instance, a photo that captures a wide array of vibrant colors may evoke a sense of warmth or excitement; darker images may evoke a feeling of suspense or tension. Photography also serves as an effective form of marketing, journalism, education, and forensic evidence.

The advent of inexpensive cameras and digital editing tools has made the craft more accessible to amateurs and hobbyists than ever, so if you want to stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to double down on your training and skills.  

Read on to learn the skills and tools you need to become a professional photographer.

What Does a Photographer Do?

The short answer is photographers capture high-quality photos either for individuals (think family portraits) or clients (think advertisers and newspapers). But it’s much more complex than that. It takes a good eye and a knack for composition and aperture to be a successful photographer. Additionally, photographers possess knowledge of artificial and natural lighting and shutter speed.

Photographers also spend a considerable amount of time in post-production. Most digital photographers utilize software to touch up images and remove unwanted spots. They can also change backgrounds, manipulate colors, and sharpen or soften images.

Some photographers work in studios while others focus more on traveling and capturing the outside world. 

Types of Photography

Sure, some photographers spend their days flanked by models and designer clothes, but that’s a fraction of the working professionals. There are many niches that photographers specialize in, including:

  • A portrait photographer takes professional photos of individuals, families, and groups. They may work for portrait studios or have their own freelance practice.
  • A wedding photographer takes photos of the big event, usually prior to and on the official wedding day. Many wedding photographers either work for studios or on a contractual basis.
  • A nature photographer captures the outside world, including animals, landscapes, and plants. Most nature photographers work for nature magazines or on a freelance basis.
  • A medical photographer possess knowledge of physiology and medical processes. They often work for hospitals, research facilities, clinics, medical publishing companies, and emergency response organizations.
  • A still life photographer shoots inanimate and ordinary objects. To make these objects more appealing to viewers, they focus on enhancing colors, shadows, lighting, and saturation. You often see still life photographs in catalogs, magazines, and on websites. For example, a product being advertised in a still life photograph may appear more vibrant to appeal to consumers.

Check out Monster’s photographer job description sample to get an idea of additional common tasks and responsibilities.

How to Become a Photographer

There aren’t any formal photographer education requirements to begin working in the field. However, pursuing a photography degree or vocational training can boost your skills and understanding of the trade.

If you want to focus on a particular specialty area, you might also want to earn some credits in a related field. For example, if you’re aspiring to become a medical photographer, you’ll need knowledge of biology, medicine, and physiology.

Looking for college programs and photography scholarships? Check out these schools and scholarship opportunities that can help you take the first steps toward your education.

No time for a four-year degree? Many colleges, vocational-technical institutes, and technical schools offer photography classes. You’ll learn the basics such as:

  • The fundamentals of photography
  • Photojournalism
  • Digital editing tools such a photoshop
  • Lighting techniques
  • Business and marketing for photographer

If you need to maintain a flexible schedule, plenty of colleges and institutes offer online photography classes.

There are key qualities that employers value when hiring a photographer:

  • Artistic ability and a good eye for composition
  • Business and marketing skills
  • Experience with photo-editing software
  • Ability to communicate with clients and meet their needs
  • Attention to detail

Just as important, employers really want to hire photographers who have a knack for creativity and a passion for the craft.

One of the best ways to learn how to become a photographer is to get out there are start taking pictures, developing a personal aesthetic, and displaying your work. These days, your photography doesn’t need to be hanging in a gallery or museum to display your work—a strong, professional digital portfolio can show potential employers that you possess both the artistic and technical skills desired in this line of work.

That doesn’t mean you include every photo you’ve ever taken; choose the best images in your collection that represent your style. If you have multiple specialties (say food and wedding photography), have separate sections of your portfolio dedicated to each.

How Much Do Photographers Make?

The median photographer salary is $18.57 per hour. Salaries range from $12.52 to $33.63 per hour and depend on several factors, including experience, type of photography, and the demand. For instance, if you’re a wedding photographer, you may earn most of your income during the summer, but may need to pick up another gig during the winter. In contrast, there’s generally a greater need for photojournalists year-round. 

You can look up the average salary for photographers in your location by using the Monster Salary Guide.  

How to Find Photographer Jobs

You may have to start out as an apprentice or in an entry-level position to gain experience. One way to get your foot in the door is with a strong photographer resume that highlights the key qualities that employers are looking for.

It’s also important to write a cover letter to introduce yourself and pitch your skills to potential employers. This photographer cover letter sample can give you some good writing tips. Then you can start checking out all the awesome photography jobs available right now on Monster.

According to the BLS, these are the top five states with the highest levels of employment for photographers:

The metro areas with the highest levels of photographer employment include:

Picture Yourself in a Photography Career

After you know how to become a photographer, you’ll be ready for your close-up. Want some help finding work? Upload your resume for free to Monster. We can match you with potential employers and bring your career into focus.